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A student asks: Sometimes when scanning my body during mindfulness practice, I come across some pain or discomfort…

ice-packA student asks: Sometimes when scanning my body during mindfulness practice, I come across some pain or discomfort. Do I try to stay with it until it goes away? And if it doesn’t go away, do I move on?

Sunada replies: Well, first of all, if the pain seems to be an indication of something wrong –- like an aggravated injury –- please do something to address it right away! You’ll have to be the judge of what’s really going on, of course.

But otherwise, mindfulness is about getting to know ourselves and our world better, not to escape into a feel-good state or to get rid of unpleasant/painful things. It’s a useful practice to stay with our discomfort, make it the object of our concentration, and observe what happens as it waxes and wanes. If we just let it be, in many cases, it will pass away on its own.

But other times it won’t go away — like chronic physical conditions or emotional issues like depression or anxiety. So yes, it’s a good question — what to do when it doesn’t go away?

Let me share my experience of walking outdoors recently on a bitterly cold New England winter day. My body’s natural reaction to being out in the cold is to hunch up my shoulders, cave my chest in, and get into a protective sort of posture. But as I was observing myself, I realized that my responses were doing nothing to make me feel warmer or more protected from the cold. It was just making me tense up (shoulders up around my neck, for instance), and if anything was making me feel worse –- not so much from the cold but from all the tension I was carrying around. I also noted that if I dropped my shoulders and stood up straight and faced the cold, it really didn’t feel that bad. And if I brought my attention more closely to the raw sensation of the wind on my face, and setting aside any judgments about how cold it was, it wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable as I had thought it was. So I’d say at least 75% of that feeling of “cold and uncomfortable” was an inflated judgment I had made up in my mind, and was not the reality.

I think this is one of the lessons of mindfulness. If we stay with our experiences, we can begin to separate out the bare reality from what’s a fabrication of our minds –- in this case, exaggerated thoughts of discomfort that served no purpose other than make me feel worse! Being mindful of my discomfort didn’t make it go away –- I couldn’t make the cold weather go away, of course -– but I WAS able to find a way to be in the cold without piling unnecessary suffering on myself. That realization alone made the coldness much easier to live with.


Sunada teaches the online meditation courses at Wildmind, and also runs her own business, Mindful Purpose Life Coaching, that helps people navigate the choppy waters of their own spiritual journeys.


Editor’s note: The student with whom this exchange took place has granted permission to publish this journal entry, and will remain anonymous. Wildmind treats all student journals as strictly private, and never allows outside parties to read them without explicit permission from the student.

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Comment from denis
Time: January 2, 2010, 9:27 pm

Hi Sunada, Greetings to you from South Africa, Appreciation for all of you at “Wildmind”
Could you possibly advise me on what seems to be a underlying feeling of “Unsatisfactoryness”? I have been observing this phenomena for a long time. These defilememts, and others, seem to take up so much of my time that I would rather spend on more wholesome attitudes.
Inflated judgements about this ego pain body.
Know I should STOP IT! But how?

Grattitude
Denis

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Comment from Sunada
Time: January 3, 2010, 4:52 pm

Hi Denis,

I’m finding it difficult to respond to your question in a meaningful way without knowing more of the context. So I’ll have to respond in a general way. What if, instead of focusing on what you experience as a “defilement”, you cultivated the opposite quality? For example, rather than trying to stop ourselves from feeling angry and resentful, we could look for more things that we make us feel genuinely happy, loving, and kind. There’s an old adage that says whatever we put our attention to is what grows. Rather than focusing on the problem (which only makes then grow larger in our experience), what about putting your mind on the opposite, positive quality? By putting our mind on positive things in our present experience, we being to live out those qualities and directly experience what it’s like to BE that way. That little seed of direct experience is what starts us on the path of new directions.

Does that help?

with metta,
Sunada
http://www.mindfulpurpose.com

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Comment from denis
Time: January 3, 2010, 5:34 pm

Namaste Sunada.
Thank you, yes your reply is helpful. Am aware that thoughts become things
Problem being that after years of negative thought paterns that have now manifested as energy blockages in my body that are a great hinderence to meditation practice and caused me not to complete a 10 day Vipassana retreat.
On one level being only in the mind, and therefore having no real substance and
Two; manifested as overwhelming sensations of energy rotating in opposite directions causing much pain and all sorts of negative ‘Mentating’ about, and in the body.

Thanking you
Denis

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